Is interment at sea permitted?


According to Jewish law, we bury our deceased in the ground,1 as the verse states (Deuteronomy 21:23), “bury you shall bury him,” in reference to the body of someone who was hanged as capital punishment. The reason why “bury” is doubled, says the Talmud, is to indicate that all corpses need to be buried in the ground.

In fact, according to Jewish law, even if a person drowns in a contained body of water (such as a lake), the family does not mourn until they find the body (or give up the search). From here we see that interment in water is not considered burial.2

Why in the ground? After the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, G d told Adam that he will now have to work the land, and that humanity will go through a cycle of life (Genesis 3:19): “With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for you were taken therefrom, for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” The beginning of humanity, Adam, was formed from the ground.3 The nourishment of human beings is from the ground. And so we return to the ground when we die.4

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, explains that the human being’s return to the earth is not meant simply as a punishment. For our entire life we toil to make the world a more G‑dly place—in the words of the Chassidic masters, to make the world a “dwelling place for G‑d.” Through a Jewish burial in the ground—the base level, most lifeless domain of our world—we uplift the earth through the fulfillment of a Divine precept. The earth itself, used for a G‑dly purpose, becomes more G‑dly.5

Please see The Jewish Interment from our Jewish Death and Mourning section.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
Ask the Rabbi @ The Judaism Website